Brushes with celebrity


We’ve all had brushes with celebrities. Working at a large East Coast university has brought lots of them my way.  Some years ago I was in a bookstore in downtown Providence at lunchtime, and I was trying to look at something on a lower shelf, and a tall lanky balding older guy was trying to look at the same shelf, and we got in each other’s way. And we glared at each other.  And – oh Jesus – it was Peter Boyle.



Partner and I like strolling in Manhattan, and one day we had a twofer: an Edie Falco sighting in a pastry shop (everybody in the place was on his/her cell phone, reporting that Edie was only two tables away!), and a Brad Garrett sighting on Broadway (he was eighteen inches taller than everyone else, and he was fairly radiating don’t-even-think-about-approaching-me!).  Also Daniel Davis, Niles from “The Nanny,” who’d been in the production of “La Cage aux Folles” we’d just seen, smiling in the rain, signing autographs.  Also the guy who played the mayor on “Gilmore Girls,” in line for “Spamalot,” bitchy and gossipy.



A friend here in Rhode Island is acquainted with a major local politician; she babysits her dogs, for god’s sake.  They were in a burger joint together, and the girl behind the counter squinted at Major Politician oddly. “I’ve seen you on TV,” she said. “Or in the newspaper. Right?”



Major Politician smiled. “Probably you have,” she said. “I’m Major Politician.”



The girl thought for a moment, then shrugged. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I don’t know who that is.”



Ah well.



But sometimes there is a perfect celebrity moment:



One of my acquaintances is lucky enough to be acquainted with the immortal Candice Bergen.  They were in a local Starbucks, and the barista said: “You look just like Murphy Brown.”



And Candice Bergen said, without batting an eye: “You know, a lot of people tell me that.”







Missing children, Nancy Grace, and Dan Abrams


Partner and I get up at 7:00 am or a little after. We have slightly different routines. I go into the living room, read my email and drink my coffee; he stays in the bedroom, reads his email, watches “Good Morning America,” and drinks his coffee.



Naturally I can hear most of the dialogue.



At 7:30am, “Good Morning America” almost invariably features a story about a missing child.  The child is almost always white, by the way. They usually have the irrational Nancy Grace and the mostly-imperturbable Dan Abrams doing Point Counterpoint on the subject.



Naturally there’s no real information.  Nancy always assumes the worst, and declares it, and announces that anyone who disagrees with her is a fool and an ivory-tower intellectual and a goddamned liberal.



Dan Abrams usually points out, mildly, that all the facts aren’t in, and more work needs to be done on the case.



Nancy explodes, calls Dan an ivory-tower intellectual and a goddamned liberal, and wants to know why more isn’t being done to bring this case to its (obvious) conclusion.



Some thoughts:



        I wonder how many missing children there are in the USA today. 

        I wonder how many of them are non-white. 

        I wonder why we so seldom hear about the non-white missing children on “Good Morning America,” and I wonder if it’s because they’re just not considered to be so angelically adorable.

        I wonder that they pair the astonishingly illogical Nancy Grace with the perfectly reasonable Dan Abrams, and allow her to snarl at him idiotically, just for the sake of TV entertainment.

        I wonder what percentage of these poor children are ever located.



And finally: I wonder that the TV doesn’t actually explode with the whole idiotic illogicality of the thing.


The recirculation of things


I wrote recently about the “100 Things Challenge.” I got a lovely response from a new WordPress blogger who writes under the name LearnShareChange, about how difficult it is to get rid of things because of our sentimental attachments to them.



How horribly true!



I love things, all kinds of things.  I am sentimental about them.  I have odd little things from my childhood, things that (somehow!) I have saved for almost fifty years.  One is a prize from a bag of Fritos sometime in the early 1960s, a little plastic coin with a picture of Laika the Russian space dog. It was a Heroes of Space series, and I loved that little dog.



Over the years, I have accumulated so many more things.  Books, and collectibles, and clothes, and gadgets.  Bags of them, boxes of them.



But – and here’s the funny thing about it – when someone sees one of my things and says: “I really like that,” I almost invariably give it to them.  Without hesitation.



They are startled, but they almost always take it.



My dear friend Sylvia calls this “the recirculation of things.”  She’s a collector too: dolls, toys, all kinds of things.  But she’s the way I am.  She wants things to keep moving.  (Her husband passed away last year, and she spent a lot of time giving away things afterward; she’s given me some lovely silver spoons, and a set of Bugs Bunny tumblers.)  She (like me) loves to own things, and see them, and have them for a while, but that’s usually enough: when someone else says that they like the thing, she gives it to them. 






As do I.



I love toys.  I adore stuffed animals.  I even keep them in the office.  But when I see the child of a co-worker admiring one of the funny little bears up on the shelf, I usually let them know that, if there’s an animal they can’t live without, I will let them take it.






They are just things.  Just silly things.  I suppose there are a few things in the house I couldn’t stand to live without: my Laika coin, and my old teddy bear.  And I think my brother still has my moon-globe in his garage; I was given it for Xmas 1969, five months after the first moon landing, and I still think about it. (I should ask him about that.)  And a handful of other things, small things mostly, with family significance, mostly worthless. 



Those things I will never give away.



Everything else, you can have, I think. 



Fifty years from now, it won’t matter to me a bit.


Cory Booker


Hey, Cory Booker. It was very neat of you to pull that woman out of that burning building. And I loved the way in which you addressed Chris Christie on gay marriage. (I’m always thrilled when I see Democrat politicians doing worthwhile things.)



What the hell were you thinking about on May 20 on “Meet The Press”?



You sniped at the President’s anti-big business stance, saying that it “nauseated” you.



But you were, and are, a designated surrogate for the President when you speak.



Did you remember that on May 20 on “Meet the Press”? Did you realize that you were on television?



You spent most or all of last week apologizing for what you said, and (contrariwise) defending what you said. You said you were entitled to a mistake, and that it was no big deal



Meanwhile, the Republicans are gloating and using your words to advance their own position.






We had such high hopes for you.



And now you turn out to be a nudnik after all.



Ah well.



(It’s a shame. You were nice-looking, and smart. Until you opened your stupid yap.)



We’ll find someone else to take your place.



Bye now.


For Sunday: a morose Danish take on Donald Duck (not for kids! NFSW!)


Maybe you’ve read some of the Stieg Larsson books about that tattooed girl who kills bad people. Maybe you’ve seen “The Killing,” with its quiet Danish take on murder.



So: do you picture Scandinavians as morose neo-Nazi drug-dealing murderers?



Okay.  Then this video is for you.



This video is by a Danish comedy group.  It’s Donald Duck and his nephews, and Daisy, and Goofy, and Uncle Scrooge, as you’ve never seen them.  Just so you know: it’s definitely not for kids, and NSFW.








Getting rid of a hundred things


There is something running around the Internet right now called the “100 Thing Challenge.”  It is being promoted by a fellow named Dave Bruno, who blogs about simple living.  It is much better, he writes, to simplify our lives by getting rid of things we don’t really need, and to refuse to get more things we don’t need.



I am in favor of this idea, very much.



I am also a huge packrat. 



I have mounted my own informal version of the 100 Thing Challenge several times over the past twenty years.  It’s always successful, more or less, but then I discover after a few months / years that the heaps of things reappear.



Dave Bruno recommends a three-pronged approach:



·       REDUCE the number of things you own.  Trash them, give them away, sell them.

·       REFUSE to buy more things you don’t need.  (This one’s tricky. I see a garlic press or a travel steamer and think, “I need that!”  It’s a misuse of the word “need,” I know.  And yet: I didn’t need that wok I bought at Ikea, but it was five bucks, and now I use it regularly.  Unlike the talking meat thermometer I bought at Brookstone, or the cheapo e-reader I bought at Bed Bath & Beyond that didn’t really work very well, or the cheapo MP3 player I bought online that doesn’t work very well . . . )

·       REJIGGER your priorities so that you don’t keep falling back into the same trap.



There’s a frequent refrain here: don’t be sentimentalDon’t keep something just because someone gave it to you, or because it reminds you of a dead relative.  Your memories are more precious than those things.



But I have an issue with this.  Sometimes I keep things specifically because they remind me of people, or places, or pleasant times in my life.  I have the memory, sure, but without something to summon the memory, it’s lost in the whirl.  Then I notice my copy of the King Arthur Cookbook on the shelf, and I remember that I bought it in Padanaram, Massachusetts, in April 2000, on a day trip with Partner, and I remember the weather was cool, and we had a nice lunch in a local restaurant, and I had grilled green beans, and they were very good.  That memory would be lost in the shuffle without something to help me recall it.  



But I do like the idea of getting rid of things.  



So let’s get started, shall we?


1.     A VHS copy of “A Charlie Brown Christmas.” I don’t need it. I know the whole Charlie Brown Christmas special by heart, including the pauses and the tones of voice and all of the music. (On the other hand, I was given this video by a dear friend, who passed away a few years ago.)  Gulp. Okay. Out it goes to the Salvation Army.

2.     A DVD copy of “Revenge of the Zombies.” I bought it in a dollar store for a laugh, and never watched it.  That’s an easy one. (On the other hand: it takes up almost no space, and it might be good for a laugh on a rainy afternoon one of these days.) This is a slightly easier decision: it goes on the Salvation Army pile.  If I regret my decision, I can probably buy another copy of it at the same dollar store.

3.     A used copy of Janice Dickinson’s autobiography.  I tried reading it a few years ago and found that I just didn’t care about the life of Janice Dickinson.  I have a little problem getting rid of unfinished books, however, so it’s still on the shelf.  Easier decision than the first two.  Salvation Army!

4.     A new copy (unread) of “Gertrude Bell: Queen of the Desert, Shaper of Nations.”  Interesting topic. If I read it, I might learn something about the recent history of the Middle East.  On the other hand, I will probably never read it.  Let’s mark this one “undecided,” shall we?

5.     A whole stack of DVD opera recordings, with librettos.  I bought these over the years, thinking that an intelligent person’s music library really needed copies of “Les Dialogues des Carmelites,” and “Boris Godunov,” and “Lakme.”  I was wrong.  These were not cheap, however. I’ve tried to sell them on eBay, and – surprisingly – there’s not much of a market for used opera recordings, no matter how good they are.  They will sit on the shelf until I find buyers.  (Readers: let me know.  I have a bunch of these.  If you’re an operaphile, drop me a line, and I will give you the whole inventory.  Maybe we can strike a deal.)



I’m exhausted, and I’ve only gotten up to #5 on the list.



I can see why they call this a “challenge.”


Ancient aliens


Partner and I like to watch those programs on Discovery and TLC and Syfy about Ancient Aliens.  You know: the aliens who built (or helped build) the Pyramids, and Machu Picchu. They designed the Nazca Lines. They fitted together the stones of Tihuanaco.  They brought Prescelly bluestone hundreds of miles, overland, to build Stonehenge. Our ancestors painted pictures of them, and told stories of them.



I am very happy to believe in alien life.  In fact, I think it’s silly not to believe in alien life.  The universe is utterly bloody vast, and it would be ridiculous to think that we were the only walking talking things in it.  I have two problems with the Ancient Aliens theory, however:



        Where did they all go? They were (evidently) all over the place in our ancestors’ days; now they’ve keeping a very low profile.  How come?  Are they afraid of us?

        Why in the hell would they come here? What do we have to offer? Water? There’s water everywhere in space; if they wanted water, they could probably mine comets.  Metal ore? Hydrocarbons? Nah. I’m with Douglas Adams on this one: the best thing you can say about Earth is that we’re “mostly harmless.”



I also have a problem with the UFOlogists who keep giving us humanoid aliens, and horse aliens, and elephant aliens, and kitty-cat aliens.  Alien life, if/when we find it, will probably be far more peculiar than we can imagine now. I’ll wager that it doesn’t even use DNA.  Scientists (human scientists) have already come up with a number of other molecules that can self-replicate. (Admittedly they’re amino-acid based, but it’s a step in the right direction.) The aliens, when we finally meet them, will be blobs, or sighing clouds of methane with rubbery coverings, or bundles of sticks, or potted plants.


And they will have absolutely no interest in building Stonehenge.


(But it’s fun to think about.)



Genetic origins


Partner and I are doing one of those DNA analysis things.  Some of them give you health information, and possible relationships with other test subjects; this one is a bargain-basement test (basically the same test the FBI uses to identify murder suspects) which checks and identifies thirteen genes.  It will then compare our genome (or, rather, those thirteen bits of it) to an international database, and tell us our (possible) countries of genetic origin.



Nothing for sure, of course; it’s too generic for that.  But the results will be interesting.  Origins are mysterious; maybe even a rough idea would be nice.



The modern USA was founded by lots of Europeans who basically swamped the original population, wiped them out with war and disease, and replaced them.  Australia followed the same pattern.



But in much of the rest of the world, this was not the case.



Africa was conquered by Europeans, but never swamped.  India, ditto.   Siberia, ditto.  South America – well, parts of it, anyway. 



And then there’s Europe.



Back in 1903, a man’s skeleton was found in Cheddar Gorge in southwest England.  It was dated to approximately 7000 BCE.  Cheddar Man’s mitochondrial DNA was sequenced in the 1990s, and then – just for laughs – it was compared to the mitochondrial DNA of people living in the neighborhood.



There were found to be two exact matches, and one almost-exact match.



Nine thousand years later, Cheddar Man still had some relatives in the neighborhood.



The Maghreb (which includes all of North Africa west of Egypt) is considered to be part of the “Arab world.” Oh, really?  It was, and is, the Berber world.  It absorbed its invaders: the Arabs, the Romans, the Visigoths, the French, the Italians, the Spanish. 



And best of all:



Apollonia, about to leave for her most recent European trip, was excitedly talking about visiting her family up on the Alpine heights of northern Italy, and the history of her family’s village, and its pre-Roman roots.  Excitedly she Googled a reconstructed picture of Oetzi the Iceman, the 5300-year-old mummy found near the Austrian-Italian border, not far from her family’s hometown.  “Look at him!” she crowed.  “It’s my uncle Ettore!  It’s my nonno!”



And, strangely enough (though I didn’t say this to Apollonia), Oetzi looks a little bit like my grandma.



Origins are mysterious



But let’s wait for the DNA results before we say more.



Coming attractions: “Magic Mike”


If you have not yet seen the cover of the May 25 issue of “Entertainment Weekly,” get out of your chair right now and scamper off to your local newsstand and buy a copy.



It’s a big heavenly picture of Channing Tatum, dreamboat that he is, unbuttoning his shirt and looking right at you, reader, with the devil’s eyes and a funny little I’m-gonna-get-you smile. (I give you a little sample of it above. To paraphrase Garth in “Wayne’s World”: when I look at it, I feel funny, like when I climb the rope in gym class.)



But wait! There’s more! The cover folds out into a full tableau of the four leads of Channing’s new movie, “Magic Mike,” which is all about male strippers: Channing himself, the immense Joe Manganiello, a very nice-looking newcomer named Matt Bomer, and a still-good-looking (if vacant) Matthew McConaughey.



That cover is a little piece of heaven on earth.



And may Heaven bless my friend Tab, who gave me his copy of the magazine and graciously said I could keep it. As I said to him yesterday morning: “Today you have made an old man very happy.”



This movie has been a long time incubating, and there has been much buzz about it. Channing Tatum, who also came up with the idea for the movie, was himself a male exotic dancer, and is refreshingly unapologetic about it (go see his intro dance / monologue from his appearance on SNL a few months ago). There is something really very likeable about him. (Translation: I would cheerfully have his baby, or as many babies as he wants to have.) There was a joke on a recent episode of “30 Rock” about “Channing Tatum’s meteoric rise to fame,” and I get it: where did this guy come from? And why did we not know about him sooner? (I loved watching him goofing around in “21 Jump Street”; he’s like a big kid, and I think it comes naturally to him, and it’s very much part of his charm.)




I don’t mean to slight the other members of the cast of “Magic Mike.”  Manganiello is really wonderful, and he really covers a lot of terrain, and he looks like he would be fun to play cribbage with, if you understand me. Bomer is a nice discovery for me, as I had no idea he existed up until now. McConaughey is – well, he’s not my cup of tea. He fairly radiates dull and shallow; he’s nicely built, but he has a dessicated air, like a piece of salt codfish. But, with a bag over his head, he might serve to while away a dull afternoon.



If I sound shallow myself, well, surprise, I am shallow. Remember the Gelman-Waxner Rule: the enjoyment you take away from a movie is in direct proportion to the attractiveness of its leading actors / actresses.



“Magic Mike” premieres June 29.



Do you think it’s too soon for me to get in line for tickets?



Tunis and Dream-Tunis



I lived in Tunis for two years. It was (and, I’m sure, still is) a beautiful city.  I lived in a house not far from the shoe market and the gold market and the perfume market, down the street from the coppersmiths’ district, within shouting distance of the az-Zeytouna Mosque. My walk to work took me through the busiest part of the tourist / merchant area, past the rug merchants and the spice merchants and the olive-wood merchants, past the British Council library, out through the Bab Bhar, down Avenue Habib Bourguiba, past the French-built Cathedral of Saint Vincent de Paul, past the statue of the fourteenth-century Tunisian historian Ibn Khaldoun holding his book against his chest.



It was a sunlit city, warm, funny, full of unique and wonderful neighborhoods.



I dream of it all the time.  Dream-Tunis is not quite the same as the real Tunis in which I lived.  Dream-Tunis is full of dramatic landscapes and vistas.  In Dream-Tunis I’ll walk down a boulevard and see the entire city from a height, or realize that there’s a whole stretch of seacoast I never visited.  Or a mosque, or a whole stretch of old buildings.



I think it’s because the real Tunis was (to me, in the mid-1980s) just as dreamlike.  I remember, one Saturday, deciding to walk north (an unfamiliar direction) through the medina, to see what I’d find.  I found residential areas, and more markets, and roofed streets, and unroofed streets.  I found a housewares market, like an open-air Walmart.  I found another shoe market.  I found quiet neighborhoods full of palm trees growing between the houses. 



I didn’t want to go home.  I wanted to keep going forever. 



I think that’s why I still dream about it.  Tunis was a labyrinth, but all of its secrets and revelations were beautiful.  I always wonder: what would have happened if I’d turned left instead of right?  What doorway would I have found?  Another spice market?  Another thousand-year-old mosque?  Another Turkish palace?



My friend Nejib (who now directs a large technology operation in the city) keeps inviting me back to see “the new Tunisia.” 



Maybe I will someday. 



I hope it’s still as intricate and beautiful as I remember.



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